Grocery Bills Bumming You Out? Start a Garden!

Wende Dahlsten
Greater Nevada Credit Union

I’m the first person to admit that I have a brown thumb. I do however turn green with envy when I visit a friend of mine who has every variety of tomato known to man, growing in abundance all over her back yard. Luckily she shares her bounty with me, which is great because the cost of produce has skyrocketed due to the 3-year draught in California. The cost of lettuce is up 34%, grapes 21%, (wait did I just read that right? Grapes are up 21%....what is that doing to the wine market?). Before we panic…let’s take a look at some money saving ideas to calm our nerves.

Picking the right veggies

One idea when you’re looking to save on your grocery bill is to start a garden. It’s important to be strategic in your planting, however. Some vegetables like onions and potatoes are not worth growing because they are so inexpensive in the store. Greens are where it’s at when looking to save money. A head of lettuce can cost up to $2.50 or a bag of spinach can cost $4-$5! For $2-$2.50 you can buy a package of seeds that will produce enough greens for daily salads starting 40-50 days after planting. Tomatoes seem outrageously priced these days. You can buy a pint of cherry tomatoes for $4-$5 at the farmer’s market. Or, you can buy starter plants for $2-$3 each that will yield 20 pints or more in favorable conditions. Another huge way to cut costs is to grow your own herbs. A small container of fresh herbs can cost $3-$4. For the same amount of money you can get a starter plant that will yield 50 times as much.

Did you call me a drip?

Newsflash...not only do we live in the desert, we are in a draught. The most efficient way to keep your garden watered is to use drip irrigation. For those of us who have day jobs, they even have drip irrigation systems with timers, so you can basically set it and forget it to keep your garden well nourished. Water timers range from $15-$50 and the drip irrigation systems start in the $20 range.

Maximize your efforts

Here are some tips for increasing your plants’ yields:

  • Trellises: Using a Trellis will increase your yield per square foot. Plants that flourish on a trellis include: cucumbers, cantaloupes, tomatoes, and sweet peas.
  • Wide rows:  Plant greens such as leaf lettuce, spinach, and arugula 3 or 4 rows abreast (without walking aisles in between) to yield more food per square foot.
  • Raised beds: Not only will using raised beds organize your garden, it allows you to perfect your soil for optimal productivity. Raised beds can be easy to build and inexpensive. You can find a raised bed garden kit at Home Depot for around $30. Or there is a fabric version called Smart Pots Big Bag Bed  for about $27 on Amazon.
  • Start with transplants: In order to start growing earlier in the season, start with transplants. Using transplants will give you a head start on harvest time for most plants compared to starting from seed.
  • Focus on your strengths: Beets, carrots, Jerusalem artichokes, parsnips, tomatoes, and turnips grow well in the high desert. You don’t have to limit yourself to these, but once you find that certain types of vegetables do well in your garden, make sure to maximize your output by focusing on the varieties that perform the best.

Monetizing Your Bounty

Those of you who have become master gardeners and begin producing more than you can eat; why not sell your products? You can join a local farmer’s market or fruit stand by obtaining a Producer Certificate. The documentation costs $50 for the first year and $30 to renew. Some buyers will want to see your certificate before purchasing your items. Just like any business venture, you’ll want to come up with a workable strategy so that you’re able to get the best return on your investment. There are many amazing Farmer’s Markets in our region, so you’re bound to find one that fits your needs.


In order to prevent waste, it’s best to freeze vegetables in small batches as you harvest. The optimal time to freeze is when the vegetables are at their peak of ripeness. It’s best to wash and cut them first, then blanch them in boiling water for 1-2 minutes. (With the exception of tomatoes)  Use one gallon of water per pound of vegetables. Blanching stops the enzymes that keep vegetables ripening, helps remove dirt and bacteria, brightens color, slows mineral and vitamin loss, and softens the vegetables so they are easier to pack. Remove vegetables from the water with a slotted spoon and transfer them immediately to a bowl of ice water until they are completely chilled and drain well.  


Home canning is a little more complicated than freezing. Canning must be done properly or it can be risky or even deadly. Here are some basic steps for home canning:

  • Use a pressure canner or cooker.
  • Be sure the gauge of the pressure canner or cooker is accurate.
  • Use up-to-date process times and pressures for the kind of food, the size of jar, and the method of packing food in the jar.


If gardening is just not your thing, and you’d rather have someone else grow your food; you may want to consider joining a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture). When you become a CSA member, you are purchasing a subscription to a local farm and you receive weekly baskets of fresh food based upon your specifications. Instead of having to search through grocery stores to get the best produce, Farmers gather their products, package them in a basket for you and arrange for a centralized location for you to pickup. Buying a CSA will save you money because you are buying directly from the farmer, thus eliminating the middle man. The cost of a single share varies from around $25-$30 a week, and depending on the farmer, you may pay a membership fee of around $50. You can also opt for half a share, and your best bet is to talk directly to the farmer to make sure that everything is clear before you sign on the dotted line.